The Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI) at Princeton University is a university-industry partnership sponsored by BP. The goal of the project is to find solutions to the carbon and climate problem that are safe, effective, and affordable. Now entering our 13th year, our researchers are speeding progress in the areas of low-carbon energy, carbon storage, carbon science, and carbon policy.
The Carbon Science Group collects data from the oceans, the atmosphere, ice cores, and the land biosphere to study how natural sources and sinks of carbon have varied in recent and ancient times, and how they will respond to future climatic change.
The Fluids & Energy Group studies potential risks of injecting CO2 underground for permanent storage. Models of subsurface CO2 behavior coupled with laboratory studies and field tests are helping the group evaluate that risk.The Low-Carbon Energy Group studies the production of power and fuels from fossil fuels with CO2 capture, biomass as an energy source on its own and combined with fossil fuels, wind power, and batteries for power and storage.
The Policy & Integration Group synthesizes research discoveries and explores the policy implications of carbon mitigation strategies. It also works to communicate issues of carbon and climate to industry, government, NGO’s, and the general public.
Led by CMI Co-Directors Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow, the group has grown to include over 70 researchers who have published over 700 peer-reviewed articles. Together we are building a comprehensive view of the challenges of carbon mitigation - and how they can be overcome.
After an infusion of new faculty in 2011, CMI has an even stronger program with new areas of research that complement established efforts.
The Carbon Science Group continues to improve estimates of past and future terrestrial and oceanic carbon sinks and to assess impacts of climate change.
The group’s newest work on the land sink is helping unravel complicated controls on forest growth, and suggests that the “fertilization sink” caused by increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) should continue into the future. A steep increase in terrestrial carbon storage in the late 1980s has been confirmed, and the location of the sinks identified. Also this year, a study of volcanic influence on estimates of carbon sink variability shows sinks are not decreasing as suggested by studies in the literature.
In the ocean, a new instrument developed over the course of the CMI program is providing fast and accurate measurements of dissolved carbon dioxide at the sea surface and is expected to be widely adopted. New work on ocean acidification highlights possible impacts of CO2 rise on global primary production, and research on impacts predicts significant changes in fish size and habitat with climate change.
Looking into the ancient past, groundbreaking paleoclimate work is extending the ice record back further than previously thought possible. Looking toward the future, a new focus added in 2012 will harness the power of high-resolution climate models to predict changes in climate variability and impacts over the next 25 to 50 years.
In 2012, the Capture program of the Low-Carbon Energy Group continued its focus on the potential of CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR) to improve the economics of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The group participated in a National Coal Council study for US Energy Secretary Steven Chu on CCS-EOR strategies for coal-energy conversion plants, providing economic analysis of all systems studied. The researchers also developed a new proposal to subsidize carbon capture projects by using revenues from oil recovered using captured CO2, and completed a study on the relative economic and climate benefits of CO2EOR versus “CO2 activation” (using CO2 and low-carbon hydrogen to make synthetic fuels). New projects have been initiated with the National Renewable Energy Technology Laboratory, including development of a strategy to produce synthetic jet fuel from coal and biomass in the Ohio Valley, and collaborations with Italian and Chinese colleagues remain strong and productive.
The Energy Storage program continued to explore factors that impact lithium-ion battery performance and began exploring the benefits of lithium iron phosphate batteries. The researchers also developed a new approach to studying battery characteristics by examining properties in the frequency domain.
Fluids & Energy
This year the Fluids & Energy Group continued its focus on large-scale models of CO2 injection, a high point being the publication of a textbook on modeling techniques for the CCS community. At the injection scale, the in-house Dynaflow geomechanical model is now being applied to study physical stresses accompanying CO2 injection at BP’s In Salah site. The Vertical Interference Test, a technique for estimating wellbore permeability proposed by Princeton and being applied by BP and Schlumberger, is providing estimates of well cement permeabilities in the field.
Faculty who joined the Group in 2011 are pursuing bench-scale experiments and molecular-scale modeling that are providing fundamental insights into below-ground behavior of CO2. New experimental studies are shedding light on fundamental fluid flow processes, such as viscous fingering, with applications for CO2 storage and enhanced oil recovery. An expanding molecular- based simulation program is exploring the formation of CO2 and methane hydrates, as well as properties of CO2-salt-water mixtures in the subsurface.
Policy & Integration
A hallmark of CMI is its efforts to break down barriers to progress in carbon and climate policy. A major focus of the group in 2012 was re-invigorating the carbon and climate discussion by emphasizing climate change as a risk-management issue. Policy & Integration researchers contributed to a number of policy-relevant articles, encouraging the environmental community to acknowledge some of the “hard truths” of climate change and also working to educate policymakers about the risks of climate change and sea-level rise.
The program also continued to explore both the benefits and challenges of mitigation options. Co- Director Robert Socolow continued his collaboration with Michael Desmond of BP probing the feasibility of carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, and was a driving force behind a special fee-free issue of Climatic Change devoted to the topic. Other research on mitigation included the advantages and proliferation risk of small modular nuclear reactors and an innovative thesis on the rise of the Chinese wind energy industry.
On the outreach front, the “stabilization wedges concept” continues to be a popular tool in the classroom and the media, and the group is enhancing an open-source toolbox for developing energy- economics models, with a particular focus on India. Climate Central, a non-profit climate journalism group in Princeton, continues to be a valued partner in educating the public about climate change, its impacts, and options for mitigation.
Developments at Princeton
New external programs at Princeton will also complement CMI’s research and teaching. First, CMI will benefit from the burgeoning program in the fundamental physics and chemistry of solar energy and other renewable energy and energy-efficiency strategies at the newly established Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Although the physical center will first be completed in 2015, the Center is already supporting interdisciplinary research, courses, and seminars on energy issues.
Another potential partner on the horizon for CMI would be a proposed National Science Foundation Science & Technology Center to be housed at Princeton, the Center for Southern Ocean Biogeochemical Observations and Modeling (C-SOBOM). Led by the Carbon Science Group’s Jorge Sarmiento, the Center has passed through two rounds of evaluation and is awaiting word on the final award - if funded, this Center would revolutionize understanding of the Southern Ocean and its role as a carbon sink.
There is also news to report regarding CMI participants. In May 2012, Pablo Debenedetti of the Fluids & Energy Group was elected a member the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive.
In September 2012, after nearly 5 years of gracious and dedicated service to CMI, Dr. Pascale Maloof Poussart assumed a new position in the office of the Dean of the College, with responsibility for the undergraduate research experience. Dr. Holly Welles now assumes many of Poussart’s responsibilities, while continuing in her position of Manager of Communications and Outreach for the Princeton Environmental Institute, of which CMI is a part.
This report is a summary of progress for the year 2012 - previous reports, including a review of our first decade, are available at here. With new staff and new opportunities on campus, CMI is looking forward to even more productive years ahead.